Should You Be Bothered With Pro Bono Work?

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It's never too early to think about performing pro bono work. It can be both the most challenging and rewarding work you will ever do as an attorney. Many lawyers will tell you that the project they enjoyed most was one that they did pro bono. Many law students will tell you that performing pro bono work reminds them that they chose law in the first place in order to help people.

Pro bono legal work can build a bridge of understanding of the real world of law with issues you are studying in class. Additionally, the "hands on" skills you develop in interviewing and counseling clients, drafting pleadings, negotiating deals, or appearing in court can add to the marketable skills that you will need as a practicing attorney. Pro bono legal work can also help you narrow down the areas of practice you would like to work in when you graduate. And finally, the professionals you meet while performing pro bono legal work may turn out to be wonderful networking contacts when you begin looking for work.

The Pro Bono Institute defines pro bono work as work for which you, as a student, are not compensated either with pay or with academic credit. Case in point: if you assist attorneys who deliver legal services to persons of limited means or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means, that is pro bono work.

Other qualifying examples, supplying legal assistance to individuals, groups, or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental or educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization's economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate. This, too, is pro bono work.

Here are some reasons why you absolutely should consider doing pro bono work.

  • Classroom work is one thing, but when you take on a pro bono project you will learn quick, fast, and in a hurry just what it is like to make life-altering decisions for a client.
  • You have a chance to practice the fundamental skills of a successful attorney; these are effective communication with your client, strategic decision-making, and legal writing.
  • If you are working a summer internship, it is an opportunity to witness and evaluate the firm's commitment to pro bono service. This can help you decide whether or not you want to consider it as a potential permanent home.
  • You have a chance to really make a difference. It would be a shame if you passed it up.
    And now, here are some reasons why you probably should pass on doing pro bono work.

  • Time passes very quickly for a summer intern, and you might not be around to finish up the work or witness the resolution of your case.
  • You could lose. Just imagine your very first legal undertaking, and then imagine the judge saying no. It may not be because of anything you did, but it is still disappointing when things do not work out for your client.
  • Cases that involve mistreated children, battered women, civil rights violations, or any type of courtroom litigation can take their toll and leave you emotionally drained by the time you return to school.
All in all, pro bono work is a unique opportunity to grow and mature that is unsurpassed by anything you can learn in the classroom. It is hands-on experience of case management from start to finish: negotiating, making decisions, and communicating with a real-life, flesh and blood client. It is the reality of why you went to law school. Experience it now.

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